Early on, two able and well-known apostles, Neal A. Maxwell and Robert D. Hales, were assigned to coordinate Church-Olympic relationships. The Church commissioned books and planned advertising and proselytizing efforts for interested visitors. Later, leaders drew back from this aggressive plan seen as unsuitably turning the Games into a missionary campaign.
The Church vowed to be good hosts. Even so, Romney was plagued by comments about the Mormon Games or the Mo-lympics. To show the wide support in the city, he put fifteen non-Mormon boosters into a publicity picture with flutes of champagne. The London Evening Standard noted before the Games that "with their unconditional welcome and unprecedented global visibility, the Mormons cannot lose."
Church Public Affairs sent out press kits, urging reporters to look beyond the idea that those odd Mormons "party too little and marry too much." The press coverage was usually favorable. Matt Lauer of NBC's "Today" show called members "honest, hardworking people with exceptional family values." Canadian Gary Mason reported on the clean-cut, nice people who combine charity and industry. He thought that the LDS nature of the town was bound to come through, and if the "Mo-lympics" managed to be successful and safe, they would certainly reflect positively on the Church. Utah's smoking bans were not much of an issue, but the state 's restrictive liquor laws, seen as the Church forcing the Word of Wisdom on unbelievers, were inhibiting. Local people know how to pay a modest admission fee to bars designated "private clubs," or visiting the many fullservice restaurants with no restrictions and substantial wine lists. Alcohol is easily come by in Park City, thirty-eight miles from Salt Lake City, site of many Olympic activities. Mayor Anderson had hoped that alcohol might flow more freely during the Games, but the Church opposed liberalizing Utah's laws, sternly noting that "the impact on society from the abuse of alcohol, in terms of pain, sorrow, misery and lost lives, is incalculable," and that "existing alcohol laws are supported by a majority of Utah citizens." A secured eight-block square with the Olympics Medals Plaza featured free high-profile entertainment-and hot chocolate.
As the Olympics approached, New York Times writer George Vecsey, an Olympic watcher, just hoped that the event could take place without any terrible problems. "Good luck, Salt Lake City," he wrote. "I hope we remember you for a thousand years as competent, conventional and safe. No surprises. A few smiles, a few cheers, a few medals, a nice little Osmond Family Olympics."
The Games themselves went better than could have been hoped. As the Olympics receded into history, the local people were satisfied. The city, especially the mountain venues, provided a beautiful backdrop. The volunteers were cheerful from first to last. The security was effective. The Church kept its word and held its tongue. Some journalists found the Church less weird than expected. Mitt Romney, who inherited the Games at a low point and turned them around said, "It was more wonderful, more significant than we ever imagined." Romney, unpaid, reaped great personal success, jumpstarting his stalled political career. He returned to Boston, was elected governor of Massachusetts, and looms as a presidential contender.
Critics admitted that the city had blossomed with unexpected life and beauty but expected it soon to return to its "poky old self." Others were more positive. George Vecsey wrapped it up: "Make no mistake, these were Mormon Games, no matter how much that aspect was played down. There was almost no overt proselytizing, but . . . the people of Utah were sportsmanlike toward visitors and athletes from all countries. . . . I'll have good memories of seeing friends, and of the thoughtful planning and capable people who took care of us. Thank you, Salt Lake City."
The Olympic coverage paid little attention to Salt Lake's economic ills. The city suffers as shopping life moves south out of the downtown where the temple, tabernacle, and Church headquarters are located. The declining inner-city malls need expensive reinvention, and people question the future. One commentator suggested that efforts to save the downtown were doomed. He suggested that the city had always been an important religious center and the downtown should develop like the Vatican. More beautiful Church buildings and gardens would make more sense than expecting people to shop and dine there. He saw in the struggle to maintain the downtown the underlying division between the Saints and Gentiles, "an intractable, fundamental, historic and economic reality."
How to deal with the two retail malls that the Church purchased is a major planning issue. In 2003, the Church brought in city planner Ronald Pastore to oversee redesign and redevelopment. He was optimistic about Salt Lake City. As the Church proceeded with plans for a $500 million downtown redevelopment, Mayor Rocky Anderson criticized the secretive planning process and feared that a new massive mall would not meet the city's needs. He liked the idea of town houses on the street front and gardens in back and additional necessities such as grocery and drug stores to provide a mix of food, beverage, entertainment, retail stores, and housing, but he wanted a ground level walking, traditional downtown setting with smaller, cut-up blocks and less enclosed retail.
A group attempting to heal the city's religious and cultural fractures is the "Alliance for Unity," a group of eighteen business, political, religious, and media leaders who search for common ground. In September of 2001, the group gathered at the State Capitol to read a statement aiming "to help people cross boundaries of culture, religion, and ethnicity to better understand and befriend one another." Catholic bishop George Niederhauer hoped that religious understanding would spread and affect the way groups talk about each other in closed rooms. Mormon apostle M. Russell Ballard advised members to reach out to neighbors of other cultures. President Hinckley has also addressed bias and bigotry. "We must not be clannish." We can "cherish our method of worship without being offensive to others." After a year of talking and lunching, Alliance members decided to teach civility and tolerance in the schools.